Chapter II: Dromund Kaas
“I thought you were supposed to bring in hopefuls for the Academy, Lord Kirak?” The Sith paced back and forth in front of the four children lined up obediently in his office. “Instead you brought me three pieces of alien trash and a human who wouldn’t know the Force from the blunt end of a spoon.” His voice dripped with scorn. He paid no attention to Zahira or the two Twi’leks who stood beside her.
This man was red with skin as dark as she’d ever seen. Instead of clan markings, he had strange appendages hanging from his face, like the beard of a lizard. Some of them were beaded and adorned with metal. His eyes were hard and red, and he radiated hatred. He stopped pacing in front of the human. “Send this one to the Academy. Maybe they can find something useful for him to do.” He waved his hand at the other three, “I have no use for this refuse.”
“But my Lord,” Began Kirak, “They are far more sensitive than that boy, the Zab—“
“Silence!” The Sith barked. “I will not pollute the Academy with the random leavings you scrape off the street. Send that one to the western construction camp. Those two wormheads can learn to serve as they were meant to. Don’t ever bring another alien into my office, no matter if they are the by-blows of the Emperor himself—is that understood?”
Lord Kirak bowed his head in silence. He grouped the four children together and ushered them out of the office. Zahira stood in the hall, confused. What camp? She was supposed to be a warrior, like her father. Was she being sent to prison after all, for killing Charis?
He led them from one speeder station to another until finally, they landed far West of the city. The dark sky rolled overhead and her skin felt the dense moisture of rain about to fall. There was more green here than she had ever seen in her life. She looked around trying to soak it all in. The menacing Sith walked with her to a small outbuilding ringed by fortifications and turreted guns. Armed guards stood at attention, their blasters in hand, watching every man and woman who walked nearby. Kirak announced himself and a moment later, they were inside where the air was cooler.
He nodded at the man behind the desk. “I have a new one for you.”
“What’s this?” the Overseer looked at her. “She’s too young; I don’t have any work for children here.”
Kirak moved his hand, and something inside Zahira jumped. “You have work for this one. She’s a special case.”
“Oh yes, I can find work for this one, she’s a special case,” repeated the Overseer, blankly. He blinked “She can work in the laundries. Little young, but she looks like she’s going to be built like a bantha when she fills in.”
“Good.” Kirak nodded. “I knew we could come to an understanding. I’ll be keeping an eye on her from time to time, so I’ll leave her with you.” He turned on his heel to walk out, then stopped and added, “If anything happens to her, I will hold you personally responsible.” The door shut behind him.
She stood in the Overseer’s office, terrified and alone. When the collar was fastened around her neck, it sunk in. She would never be a warrior. She had just been made a slave.
Tileen, a female with the face of a cat, befriended her. Tileen was older—eighteen years, she said. She taught Zahira how to fade into the background. She told her to keep her eyes down, her voice quiet, and call everyone without a collar, “Lord.” She taught her who could be trusted and who to stay away from.
Her days became nothing but work. If it wasn’t laundry, it was clearing plates from the tables in the mess tent, or cleaning barracks where the slaves slept. In the stifling afternoons, she went out to the workers, trailed by a huge cargo droid loaded with water and rations that followed the transmitter on her wrist.
True to his word, Zahira saw Kirak every now and then. She would catch a glimpse of him speaking to the Overseers on the ridge, or staring at her from the railing above the rock quarry as she handed out rations. She hated him but looked forward to seeing him. Every glimpse of his black-robed form reminded her that he had taken her from home, made promises he never kept, and shamed her family.
When he appeared, she knew that he would want to see her. She would be summoned to the Overseer’s office after supper and made to stand where he could look at her. Zahira could tell that he knew she hated him, but he seemed to find her hatred amusing. The hatred felt good.
By the time her days were over, she lay on her pallet in a bare room with Tileen and two other women. She did her lessons on her school datapad. No one had done more than a cursory check of her pack and no one seemed interested in taking it from her. The datapad held an entire library of educational books with classes from simple math to the theories of complex calculations needed to jump to hyperspace. It looked like a child’s toy, and no one took notice of it. She fed her mind. The histories and stories took her away from the grim reality of her new life.
Two years passed this way. The tedium and cruelty of life in the slave camps shaped Zahira’s mind and body. Like her brother, she was soon larger and stronger than most girls her age. Her shoulders were broad and muscled from hard work. Her horn buds were hurting, a sign that her body was beginning to change, as well. Lord Kirak still visited but more time elapsed between one appearance and the next.
As for work, the construction was progressing and underground tunnels were being built to carry data lines and power from Kaas City to the Western expansion. Slaves from off-world were being brought in to dig the tunnels, which made for many new faces. She saw them all on her daily trips down the work lines with her big droid full of rations.
The older males in the tunnels looked at her with relief and even kindness when she appeared. There were a few Zabrak among them. They tried to question her: Where was she from? Who were her people? Why was she here? She gave no answer, steeled her rage within, and moved on.
Some of the new slaves were young males in their teens, raised as work slaves and hardened to mine work. Humans, Twi’leks, and stranger beings Zahira had no name for. They moved in a pack, like the sithspawn that made the swamps so dangerous. They looked at her with a predatory gleam in their cruel eyes, and she stayed as far away from them as she could.
The droid lumbered behind her as she walked from the central camp to the dig site. She’d seen Kirak that morning and knew he was at the camps. He’d want to see her when her day was over. She took the elevator down into the pit where the tunnels opened to the dark, myriad shafts beneath the ground. The guards stood aloof with their shock sticks and guns, and she knew she should go to them first, to offer them food and water.
She mumbled, “My Lords…” as she came to the guard station. They wordlessly waved her on towards the tunnel openings.
As the workers came up to the droid, she shrank inside herself. “Be still,” Tileen had told her, “Make yourself small and don’t look at anyone. Still your mind.” Some of the men were kind to her, as if they remembered daughters from their past. Zahira cringed from them and the memory of her father. He would be ashamed of her now.
When the group at the entrance had their shares for the day, she and the droid started down the main tunnel. The men working inside were not allowed to leave until they had fulfilled their tasks and they would be hungry and thirsty. She walked from one island of light to the next. The tunnels were long and dark, lit intermittently by glow lights where people were working. Lighting empty tunnels cost money and no money would be wasted on slaves if the operation could help it. Side tunnels split off from time to time into arteries that connected the massive underground system.
“Hey! Girl!” She heard the voice from her left. One of the pack-runners stood in a side tunnel, a glow-rod in his hand. “We need water over here.” She turned towards him with her droid.
As she got closer, she froze. He radiated malice. She looked up to meet his eyes and knew in an instant that he meant to harm her. She turned and raced blindly down the main tunnel. She heard the sound of pursuit. Fear rose inside like a wave of red choking off all of her senses, driving her to run faster in the faint hope that another work party would be close enough to shelter her. She saw a glow ahead and ran for it.
The glow rods were held by three more of the teens, standing across the tunnel. She tried to dodge– tried to escape–but the boys were bigger and stronger. One knocked her to the ground. He picked her up and held her with her arms behind her back. She yelled with rage, twisting and kicking furiously in his grip, trying to break free. A Twi’lek male grabbed her leg, the third male punched her in the stomach. She choked for air. As the human who had chased her caught up to the group, he smashed his fist into her head and she fell into darkness.
Something gnawed at her gut like a fanged beast. She opened her eyes and saw nothing but red and brown and dirt. She was down on her stomach and was being pushed over and over into the dirt in her mouth and eyes and the pain screamed again. She had to get away, had to crawl, had to find the source of the pain and stop it. She struggled to get her hands under her.
“Stay down!” a voice hissed, and she felt the impact of a boot on her ribs.
He was going to kill her
Her mother’s voice echoed in her head. “No matter what happens, stay alive.”
Something inside of her snapped like the bones in her ribcage. The fear gave way to rage and a target. The pack…the males…the one who kicked her, the one who grabbed her waist and pulled her back towards the pain in her stomach. The ones who laughed and stood aside.
The air snapped with electricity. The dirt in her hands sparked and flared. Curls of smoke rose from her skin. She spat out blood and dirt, took a deep breath and screamed.
Pain and fear and anger flared out of her like a nova. Streams of lightning climbed the earthen walls erratically. Forks of pure power ripped stones from the walls and ceiling of the tunnel, sending them crashing down. The air filled with dust and rock and the deep rumble of ground disturbed. She couldn’t see, but she could feel her abusers around her, red lights in the darkness. They were lights that had to be snuffed out.
One male fell, crushed by a volley of stone. The one holding her twitched and fried. She crawled on her forearms, screaming, her legs uselessly scrabbling in the dirt, blind but determined to get away. Two more tried to run but she raised her hand and snuffed out their lights with streams of her rage made manifest. She crawled through the darkness as the sand and rock and roaring ground gave way around her and before her. The lightning cocooned her body and propelled her forward.
She crawled a few more feet, then collapsed, senseless.
Something held her in a haze of light as her spirit soared the achingly blue sky, dotted with pink and yellow clouds like the skies of home. There was no pain, no sound but the rushing of water all around her.
A voice like a dark whisper chased her flight. “Come back” it said. “Come back and open your eyes, little Sith. “
She opened her eyes. Kolto flowed around her in a thick bubbling mass, casting everything around her in a soft blue glow. Lord Kirak stood outside the tank with his hand pressed to the side and staring at her with intense red eyes. She searched for her hatred of him but found nothing inside herself but a cold empty place.
I must be dead, she thought.
He pressed a button on the side of the tank. She closed her eyes and flew once more.
Zahira thumbed off the little datapad and rolled over in her cot. The images of the tunnel collapse were all over the grid. The operation managed to evacuate most of the workers, but four were found dead in the rubble. Four young miners, crushed under the rock. She’d smiled when she’d seen that report, and a spark had flared inside her mind. It made her happy to hear they were gone.
There was one holovid she kept playing, over and over. The cameras were turned on the tunnel mouth to show great clouds of rock dust spewing from it. Kirak appeared, his black robes creased with streaks of dirt and blood, striding out of the wreckage with Zahira’s limp body cradled in his arms. Her arms and legs hung limply and her eyes open but sightless. Her face was bruised but recognizable. Blood dripped from her knees and feet.
Surely her father had seen it by now. He would see that she wore the collar of a slave. She hoped her family thought she was dead.
The nurses whispered when they thought she couldn’t hear. Lord Kirak had brought her back to Kaas City and paid an incredible sum of credits to keep her alive. The men had done something terrible and shameful to her. She didn’t quite understand but the nurses pitied her.
They held up a mirror to her face from time to time. As the weeks went by she could watch the bruises heal. Her eyes had changed the most. Where once they had been green and clear as an acid pool, they were now ringed by halos of red fire. The doctors did their work well. Only faint scars were left behind to mark her body.
When she was declared healed and healthy, Lord Kirak returned for her. He stood in the face of her shame and told her to follow him. She handed her childish datapad to Kirak when they reached the spaceport.
“Here.” She said, “Return this to my family, and tell them that Zahira Alnari is dead.”
He took it without a word and put her on a transport to Korriban.